Giora Even is Israel’s leading ace with 17 victories! Born in 1938 as Giora Epstein, he grew up in the traditional frontier-farmer lifestyle of his home, Kibbutz Negba. An avid aviation enthusiast as a young boy, he poured over flying books and studied the biographies of Britain’s wartime aces. After the 1956 Suez War, the 18 year old joined the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and applied for flight training but was rejected for medical reasons. Enraged, he went to his commander and told him that if he could not be a pilot, he wanted to be a paratrooper.
He eventually made over 700 jumps and was a member of the IDF’s parachute demonstration team. Before travelling outside Israel to the world parachute championships, he changed his name in accordance with IDF regulations. He chose the last name “Even” (“stone” in Hebrew). Even left active duty in 1959, but life on the kibbutz left him restless and unfulfilled. He rejoined active service in late 1961 and reapplied for flight training, trying again to attain his dream of becoming a fighter pilot. The doctors determined that he had ” sportsman’s heart,” a condition resulting in unusual indications during examinations, but not a medically disqualifying factor.
He cleared the first hurdle and entered flight school, but he was not yet in a fighter. Although he was at the top of his class, the doctor had apparently allowed him to enter flight training only on the condition that he fly helicopters. Even was determined though, and while flying helicopters, he sent his medical records to an expert USAF cardiologist who confirmed that his medical condition should not keep him from flying fighter aircraft. Armed with this recommendation, he took his complaint all the way up the IAF chain of command until he ended up sitting in the outer office of Ezer Weizman, legendary IAF commander. Even put his career on the line, stating emphatically, “I’ll sit in your reception hall until you send me to fighter training.”
It worked. After deliberating all night, Weizman called him and said, “You SOB, get your things and go to the fighter OTU. I don’t want to hear another word.” After seven years and countless obstacles, he was finally on his way to becoming a fighter pilot! Beginning in 1963 Even flew frontline fighters: Dassault Ouragons, Super Mysteres, and Mirage IIIs; Israeli Aircraft Industries Neshers and Kfirs; and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons. He accumulated over 5,000 hours of fighter time and scored 17 victories. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Even shot down 12 Egyptian aircraft, eight of them in 26 hours! After the war, he was awarded the Medal of Ideal, one of Israel’s highest military honors. Even commanded Mirage and Kfir squadrons and is now a retired IAF Reserve colonel and a Captain for EL-AL airlines.